When I was young, I loved two dolls and I loved Mabel. I think of them now with sadness.
First, there was Mary-Jane. She was a handmade knitted doll, fairly flat although she was stuffed, I imagine, with socks. Her face was 2 dimensional; it did not have any angles or depth. She had razor thin woolen eyebrows, two little woolen dashes to represent her nose and a similarly created cute little cupid red mouth. Two ponytails were sewn onto her pancake head. She slept on my bed. She was my best friend. She was OLD. My mom made her for a home economics project in elementary school.
I don’t remember the second one’s name. He was a boy doll and I chose him for that very reason: perhaps a foreshadowing of my future unborn sons? He came from my grandfather’s toy store. He was my gift for having been a brave girl when I had my tonsils out. He had a penis! He drank from a bottle! He peed!
These two dolls went everywhere with me, until they didn’t anymore. I grew tired of them, I moved on, I sought more exciting adventures than they could provide.
We had maids. Mabel was the head maid, the housekeeper, I suppose I could say, except that we didn’t … say that I mean. We said nanny. Mabel, who essentially ran our household, was a formidable force of a woman. She was a strict disciplinarian who monitored our well being, while our mother was at work. We were terrified of her, we loved her.
The maids lived in small, threadbare, cement-floored rooms in their white employers’ back yards. Mabel’s room was just such a room; she had a small side table and a single bed. Bricks and paint cans elevated the bed to keep the Tokolosh away – he was thought to be a short squat dangerous man – so raising the bed was a safeguard against an attack.
Mabel warmed her room as best she could with artifacts from her village and other collectables. She added my two beloved dolls to her collection of memorabilia and they took pride of place upon her bed as they once had upon mine.
David, Michael and I joked, after we had irked her, that Mabel had voodoo-ized the dolls and was using them to regulate our behavior and enhance her dominion over us. I like to think that they were her way of preserving my childhood, a mother’s memento for the ages.
I left South Africa and came to live in Canada, barely glancing backwards to notice what I was leaving behind. Of how Mabel’s life transpired, I am ignorant. I do not know where she is. I do not know what the remainder of her life looked like. I deeply regret the not knowing.